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''Viva Laughlin,'' you got nothin' on ''Cop Rock''

The debut of CBS’ ”Viva Laughlin” sends Dalton into a ”Cop Rock” flashback. Plus: news to make Dalton say ”zigazig-ha,” and reader mail

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”Viva Laughlin,” you got nothin’ on ”Cop Rock”

The countdown has begun. We are now one day away from the debut of Viva Laughlin. (Unless you’re reading this after Wednesday, Oct. 17, in which case you can do the math yourself.) You’ve probably heard the buzz on CBS’ Laughlin, but in case you haven’t, let me just say this: It’s bad. Really bad. It’s a story of a convenience-store magnate trying to get into the casino business. It’s adapted from a popular BBC show. It is exec-produced by Hugh Jackman (who appears in the pilot as bad guy Nicky Fontana), and it also stars Melanie Griffith. All sounds pretty legit, right? Well, there’s one thing I haven’t told you: The characters periodically break out into song. Yep. There’s Jackman strutting through a casino trying to look evil while crooning ”Sympathy for the Devil.” There’s Griffith trying to seduce someone in her lingerie while busting out Blondie’s ”One Way or Another.” I think it’s appropriate to note at this time that Viva Laughlin is not a comedy.

Laughlin is daring and different, to be sure. And at a time when police procedurals and nerdy superheroes have taken over television, that should be applauded. But it’s also kinda embarrassing, especially when your lead actor (Lloyd Owen) can’t carry a tune. But I have to admit, I’m actually excited about Laughlin and have already set up a season pass (which will probably only last about three episodes before the show gets pulled). Now, is the reason I set up said season pass because I simply can’t wait to see America’s most gifted overactor extraordinaire, D.B. Woodside (best known as 24‘s other President Palmer), show off his singing voice? Maybe. But I also just can’t avoid the spectacle of the entire thing. Which is why in preparation for this momentous achievement in broadcasting, I went back and watched the pilot episode of another infamous televised musical drama (and I’m not counting one-off stunt episodes like Buffy) — Cop Rock.

Here’s the biggest difference between Laughlin and Cop Rock: Laughlin is silly, but Cop Rock is just downright surreal. I find myself dumbfounded that many songs from that short-lived show were penned by Oscar-winning composer Randy Newman because, man, are they horrible. It starts right from the first scene of the first episode, where the police raid a crack house and are taking some suspects away. How do these perps fight the power? Through song! A riot-like chant breaks out about who owns the streets, only to be interrupted by some truly wretched rapping. Don’t believe me? Try this dope rhyme on for size: ”He calls you son/ He’s not your dad/ He’s just a dumb white cop/ You made him mad.” That’s perhaps the lamest rap line I’ve ever heard in my life, which, I suppose, is not all that unexpected, considering it comes from the man behind that notable gangsta anthem ”I Love L.A.”

Series creator Stephen Bochco (the man behind such non-musical dramas as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue) must have considered rapping perps to be ”gritty” or something, but it actually comes off more as another word that rhymes with gritty yet begins with the letters sh. But this is just the beginning. The next song from the Cop Rock pilot features what I believe is an internal affairs officer dissing himself while thanking his lucky stars for his marriage: ”Not much to talk to, and I know how I look/ What I know about life, comes out of a book/ But of all of the people there are in the world, she chose me.” Dude, how about a little self-esteem? You’re a cop, for crying out loud! And not just any cop, but IAD! That means you can pull all sorts of shady stuff, and there’s no one to stop you. You could be a total pimp! And I’m not saying this to mean you could be studly or something; I mean a literal pimp. You can have your own stable of ‘hos and everything — women at your beck and call! Turn that frown upside down, mister.

Later we are presented with a musical number about political corruption when the mayor (who informs us halfway through the number that ”I was born in Delaware, behind the Dover railway station/ I came to city at a very early age” — even though I’m pretty sure that doesn’t rhyme) accepts a bribe for handing out a jail-building contract, and a tense courtroom scene climaxes with a jury magically morphing into a gospel choir (complete with organ and tambourines) to deliver its verdict of guilty.

But none of this — none of it — can prepare you for the closing number: a tender little ditty between a crackhead mommy and her baby, which she is about to sell for $200. ”Close your eyes now, little girl/ Go to sleep, my little baby/ Sandman’s coming soon,” she serenades her child, although it is unclear if the Sandman is a metaphor for sleep or an actual creature she has manufactured in her cracked-out brain that comes and attacks little babies when Mama doesn’t get her fix. I have to give the mom props though — for a basehead, she can really sing. How many times have we sat through a crackhead performance that starts promisingly but eventually degenerates into the artist swatting at imaginary locusts or altering the lyrics to make all the words rhyme with ”rock” or ”pipe”? Not here. She may be ready to ditch her own flesh and blood, but dammit, she’s gonna at least give this baby three minutes of undivided attention before she sells her off to a complete stranger.

Unfortunately, Laughlin is nowhere as bizarre as Cop Rock, but for now, it’s all we have. Which is exactly why I’ve already season-passed this sucker until it meets its untimely demise. As long as Woodside gets to belt it out before then, I’ll be happy. So happy I may just have to break out into song myself.

NEXT PAGE: Obsession of the Week, The Five, and Reader Mail

OBSESSION OF THE WEEK

Two of my favorite things joined forces this week when the Spice Girls (the only band genius enough to come up with a lyric like ”zigazig ha!”) and Victoria’s Secret decided to make like the Wonder Twins and combine their awesome, scantily clad powers to take over the world! (Or the malls, at the very least.) It seems the Secret will be the exclusive outlet for buying the new Spice Girls greatest hits CD, and no, the phrase ”Spice Girls greatest hits” is not an oxymoron, thank you very much. As someone who actually saw Spice World in theaters and played the Spice World PlayStation videogame, I applaud this bold marketing maneuver, if for no other reason than I now have an excuse to legitimately shop at Victoria’s Secret without coming off as some creepy old dude. But wait: Does a 36-year-old shopping for Spice Girls also come off as creepy? You know what? Don’t answer that.

THE FIVE

Head on over to our video area to check out The Five Funniest Old-Guy Performances on Film.

READER MAIL

I hope you majored in geography, because the Reader Mail is all over the map this week. We got people responding to how long they give the big Pam Anderson and Rick Salomon marriage, we got people giving shout-outs to my wife (which wouldn’t concern me so much if she weren’t getting more props than I am these days), and people accusing me of being flat-out insane (again, lack of props). On to the mailbag…

I’m going to take a gamble and bet the Pam + Rick marriage at a year or more. I mean, who knew they were even dating? If they were able to keep that quiet (and for how long?), then maybe they are serious. At least as serious as she was about Stripperella. Maybe not V.I.P. serious, though. —Miranda

Wow, you are definitely an optimist, Miranda. A year? Really? On another note, I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you give a shout-out to V.I.P. Long live Dustin Nguyen! And anyone with the last name of DeLuise, for that matter. (Can you tell I’m jonesing for a little Jump Street?)

I basically agree with you about Moonlight; this show about the undead deserves to die — but not before Big Shots, possibly the most terrible waste of two great-looking, talented actors (Dylan McDermott and Michael Vartan) ever. —Ray Hesse

Big Shots is small on redeeming qualities. And as much as I loved Joshua Malina on Sports Night, not under ANY circumstances do I ever want to see him in a love scene. And as for Vartan — first getting dumped for a movie star by Jennifer Garner, and now having to star in this? Can the dude catch a break?

Just watched your video clip about your wife’s TV crushes and I can totally relate. To her! I have a constantly-in-flux list of what I call my TV boyfriends. Some entries are age-appropriate, and a few are even silver-fox material, but the vast majority put me squarely in Mrs. Robinson territory. By the way, my list is just a mental one and not a laminated card like the one in that Friends episode. I may be nerdy, but not THAT nerdy. Regarding Jordan Catalano’s Visine addiction, I have two theories. Take your pick. (1) He had contact lenses that irritated his eyes. This would also explain the frequent blinking and then staring off into the middle distance. (2) The usage of eye drops is code for a character being a stoner. It implies smoking weed, without the visual of a joint or a bong. Wouldn’t want Standards & Practices to get all riled up. As always, keep up the good work. And give my best to your wife. —Nancy Russo

I’m such a moron. I honestly didn’t get the Visine thing until my wife clued me in: Yes, it is code for him being a total stoner. But see, my TV heroes on Jump Street were too busy kicking ass to be caught with any wacky tobaccy.

Your take on the Blade movies is insane. The first two movies were excellent. Wesley Snipes gave credible performances considering how limited the African-American experience is in such movies (nonexistent). He kicked butt in those films. Taking himself seriously was a fitting change from what many African-Americans get in other movies. I suppose you wanted something along the lines of Eddie Murphy, Chris Tucker, or Cedric the Entertainer? Typical. Blade the series was pathetic and does what many television shows do to African-American males — marginalize or malign them. I’m glad that show is off the air. Sticky Fingaz’s portrayal is a sad reminder of why it is never a good idea to hire just ”anybody” to ”star” in a television series. —Scott Morgan

Yes, I only like black actors if they are silly, sassy, and occasionally cross-dress on camera. You pegged me, Scott. I am a racist, as well as a sexist, ageist, and any other ”ist” you can think of, simply because I enjoyed the Blade TV series. Thanks for calling me out. Oops, I gotta go, Big Momma’s House 2 is on cable. (That Martin Lawrence kills me every time.)

But before I go, what are your thoughts on the musical drama? Happy or horrified by the reunited Spice Girls? And what funny old-guy performances did I neglect in this week’s Five? Send your questions, comments, and quibbles to theglutton@ew.com, or just fill out the handy-dandy form below. See ya next week!

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